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Patrick Hope: The Man in the Clockwork Mask

For reasons that have never made sense to me, there are some games that explode onto the scene, get tons of rave reviews, sell pretty well and are promptly forgotten. Flavor of the month isn’t exactly the correct term for these games, considering they’re usually a cut above a game where the only real recommending factor is “Listen, nothing else is coming out this month, so you might as well get this.” They’re just forgotten in the near-constant stream of gaming news. Anyway, one of those games is “Dishonored.”

“Dishonored” is a stealth action game developed by Arkane Studios and produced by Bethesda, released in October 2012 on PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and PC. Set in the Victorian city of Dunwall, which you can’t call steampunk because everything is powered by whale oil, you take control of Corvo, a former bodyguard of the Empress of Dunwall who is framed for her murder at the hands of mysterious assassins. The game is presented as a straightforward revenge story, with Corvo using a combination of a cool mask and superpowers granted by a deity known as the Outsider, to take revenge and restore the throne to the rightful heiress, Princess Emily, who is being held captive by a predictably dastardly Regent.

Honestly, narrative isn’t the strongest trait of “Dishonored,” which more prides itself on being a stealth game that you can complete in any number of ways. Do you want to play it as a straight stealth game, going for a no-alert run, killing in silence? You can do that. How about throwing caution to the wind and going all stabby stabby on everything in sight? That’s also an option. You can even go for the really hardcore skill run and try for no kills, no alerts, and no powers beyond the one, a teleportation move called Blink, that you’re given at the start. From personal experience, the last option is very frustrating, but very rewarding because you have to plan almost all of your moves.

The freedom to play the game how you want is also reflected in the design. Almost all of the missions have multiple paths and allow you to do whatever you feel is necessary to complete your goal. In a really nice touch, you can even choose how you eliminate the major enemies who plotted your downfall. You can choose the boring route of just killing them, though there are creative ways to do this, like poison or an “accident” in the bath at a brothel. Or you can bring out your inner Count of Monte Cristo and subject them to ironic punishments, like literally branding a corrupt church leader as a heretic, or broadcasting the Regent’s crimes via the town’s ever-present loudspeakers.

Nowhere is the game’s attention to various paths and your freedom to play how you see fit comes out in the Lady Boyle’s Last Party mission. The setup is that your roaring rampage of revenge has set its sights on Lady Boyle, the Regent’s mistress. The problem is that there are three Ladies Boyle and the identity of the mistress is chosen at random among the sisters, so you have to figure out who is the important one and take care of her. You have a lot of options to accomplish this.

You can sneak into their respective bedrooms to determine the mistress’s identity and convince her to come with you (each sister has her own specific triggers to get her to trust you). You can turn the party into your very own Red Wedding and kill everyone in sight. Or you can strike a bargain with an attendee who has a creepy obsession with one of the Ladies Boyle and, assuming you can deliver her to the basement, he’ll abscond with her in a gondola to, well, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fascinating study into how many ways you can actually accomplish an objective.

And we can’t ignore the production values in the game, either. Dunwall is a world that really feels alive as you explore various sections of a city that is quarantined due to a terrible plague and get a glimpse into its world. Also, Arkane got some pretty big-budget talent to voice characters in the game, like John Slattery (Roger Sterling in “Mad Men”), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister in “Game of Thrones”), Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass”), and Susan Sarandon (you know who she is). Everything in “Dishonored” feels very tight, with little wasted in any aspect of the game.

After “Dishonored’s” initial success, Bethesda talked about wanting to turn it into a franchise, with subsequent installments presumably going into the world beyond Dunwall. Until the last month or so, however, we haven’t heard a ton. The sequel is still probably coming. In any event, “Dishonored” is super-cheap and there was even a complete edition containing the various pieces of DLC released.

In time, I hope the hype for the sequel brings the series back into the light, because it’s what the Thief reboot should have been. “Dishonored” does about everything well, and in an era where good stealth games not named “Metal Gear Solid” or “Deus Ex” are rare, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. Back in 2012, he had “Dishonored” as his Game of the Year. Time has not changed that opinion.